Experimenting with Tradition, Part 2

By Rachel Sircy

Last time I wrote about how my mother found a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend to make our beloved egg noodles for the traditional Midwestern chicken and noodles dish (creatively titled, eh?). Well, here is a picture of it cooking on the back burner:

Noodles cooking on the stove

Noodles cooking on the stove

 

It doesn’t exactly look tasty, but it worked for us. I was so worn out from cooking by the time we sat down to eat that I didn’t even bother taking a picture of the noodles on my plate. But the noodles were actually not half bad, they just weren’t that pretty while cooking. The pot below is the pot of regular chicken and noodles. It looks a bit more appetizing.

Picture 2

Ready to eat!

It’s difficult to try to recreate certain ingrained traditions, but I think that Mom came pretty close to doing it this year. The noodles were of a pretty good consistency that first day, though gluten-free concoctions don’t keep well and by the next day, they had fairly well dissolved in the liquid. I didn’t take a picture of that either. I think you would all thank me for that.

Another food tradition that I especially wanted to recreate today were the frosted Christmas cookies that were always on my grandmother’s table this time of year. I wanted to have them while we put up our Christmas tree, which is always something of a special family party at our house. We turn on the Peanuts Christmas soundtrack and Bing Crosby and take it easy. Our Christmas tree is pretty plain as far as Christmas trees go. My husband and I are extremely sentimental and so we don’t have that sort of catalog-ready tree with all the matching ornaments and gorgeous bows. We don’t even put garland around our tree. Honestly, we wouldn’t have room for garland. We have the multi-colored lights that we loved when we were kids and at least one ornament to commemorate every year that we’ve been together. Many of the ornaments on our tree were handmade by my husband’s late grandmother – like this one below:

Picture 3

Since Grandma Sircy has passed away, I have started trying to carry on the tradition of making a holiday ornament for everyone in the family. Here is a shoebox full of my efforts for this year:

Picture 4

Knitting some memories

Really, I had no idea how seriously people can take the whole decorating thing – I mean, changing out themes and color schemes every year. During the holidays, my husband and I like to be kids again. We surround ourselves with things that we enjoy and things that we remember. Picture 5So, we have Grandma Sircy’s lovely handmade ornaments, we have ornaments from my husband’s alma mater, Centre College, we have an ornament for every Christmas we’ve ever spent together and a whole lot of Spiderman ornaments for some reason (though my husband made the sacrifice to leave them off the tree this year to make way for a growing number of princess-themed ornaments). Now that we have an almost-three-year-old girl – whose birthday happens to be just three days before Christmas – we have a lot more pink on our tree. And, plain as it is, I think our tree is a pretty wonderful sight.

 

Anyway, all this is to say, that around our house, tradition is pretty important and this includes food as well as decorations. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has made shortbread cookies from scratch for just about every holiday on the yearly American calendar. These cookies are the best I have ever tasted. Seriously, I know that there are a lot of people that would say that their grandma cooks best, well, I have to say that I’m pretty sure that I can provide quantifiable evidence that my grandma can bake better than yours. Taste one of her frosted shortbread cookies and see if I’m kidding. Or her homemade butterscotch pie – a recipe that originally came from a cookbook printed in 1959, the days when nobody felt guilty about eating butter, and that she improved upon. That pie is so good it’ll make you want to slap anybody’s momma – it doesn’t even have to be your own. Well, I was homesick for some of those cookies. Unfortunately, I am no baking prodigy. My shortbread (even before I started baking gluten free) was always either greasy or dry to the point of tasting like vanilla ashes. And so, I have found that sometimes we must sort of set aside tradition and do what we can do.

That is where this wonderful book comes in:

Picture 6

I know that a whole lot of people are familiar with the Cake Mix Doctor, Anne Byrn, but for all you gluten-free people out there in Columbia tonight, she has a gluten-free book. Actually, I think she has a few gluten-free books out now. I have the first one that she came out with and I have to say that almost every cake that I’ve made out of this book has been awesome. I say almost because I wasn’t crazy about the coconut pound cake or the sweet potato pound cake, but other than that, this book is the bomb. I think the deal is that I really just don’t like pound cake. Anyway, she had a recipe for slice and bake sugar cookies that you can make from a yellow cake mix and *Hallelujah* here they are:

They are really, really good. Of course, they’re not Grandma’s shortbread cookies, but they’re what I could do. My mom worked on Thanksgiving to pull together egg noodles to bring back a dish that we thought we’d lost. They weren’t like the noodles that I remember her making when I was younger, but they were a pretty good substitute. And that’s what I have done here. I’ve made a pretty good substitute, not quite the real thing, but then I could never make my grandma’s cookies anyway – only she can do that. My friend’s daughter used to tell us, whenever she’d helped make something we were eating – “you know, I put a lot of love in that.” Really, that’s what makes my grandmother’s cookies and Grandma Sircy’s ornaments so amazing. You can’t duplicate a grandmother’s love, and so you can’t duplicate anything that she does for you. And, I’d like to think that since I made these cookies for my husband and my daughter, that even though they came from a box (and the frosting came from a can) that there’s a lot of love in them too and that that love overrides the fact that I kind of cheated making them. Maybe I’m kidding myself about that last part, but maybe not. Don’t tell me if I am kidding myself. I like the illusion.

Suggested Christmastime Reading: Isaiah 9:6 and A Christmas Carol

 

 

 

Experimenting with Tradition

By Rachel Sircy

I spent the better part of Monday driving to Ohio to spend Thanksgiving with my family. My mother is, like me, a celiac. Each holiday ends up being an adventure in trying to figure out how to enjoy all the traditional foods that we miss. One that we have been working on for a number of years is a sort of Midwestern favorite, chicken and thick egg noodles. This dish is similar to chicken and dumplings, except that instead of dumplings, the dish contains homemade egg noodles which are wide and thick and puffy like dumplings. The first Thanksgiving after I was diagnosed as a celiac, my mother attempted to make these noodles for me, but because we didn’t know much about how to work with gluten free flours (and because at that time there weren’t very many all-purpose gluten free flour blends available) the noodles didn’t stick together well once they were in the liquid. They disintegrated into mush and I was left holding a bowl of chicken flavored goo. It was so gross and so disappointing that I cried.

My mother has always been famous for her version of these noodles. The week of Thanksgiving always found my family having to eat dinner in the living room because our kitchen table was covered with stretched out egg dough and then by cut and drying noodles. A few years after I was diagnosed, my mother found out that she also has celiac disease. She continued to make regular egg noodles for everyone else while she and I sat back and had to watch everyone else eat what we wanted so badly.

This year, my mother made her classic noodles for everyone else, but she also made a small batch of gluten free noodles from an all-purpose gluten free flour for us. The brand of flour that she used was actually the Walmart Great Value brand. I had no idea until this year that Walmart made its own brand of gluten free flour.

Walmart Great Value brand gluten-free Flour

Below are the resulting noodles which have been dried and which my mother has frozen. We are hoping that the drying and the freezing will help the noodles to withstand being in the chicken soup base. Even some of the best gluten free noodles will disintegrate if left in liquid for too long. Whenever I make chicken noodle soup, for example, I always try to buy Tinkyada pasta (available at Walmart and other grocery stores) which have a great ability to stay solid even when surrounded by liquid. However, even when I undercook these noodles, they eventually become pretty mushy after a day or so.

Dried and frozen noodles, ready for cooking!

Our other plan for these noodles is to add them to the chicken soup base shortly before they’re served. My mother (who is notorious for cooking too much food) also refrained from making a ton of noodles and just made what she thought that she and I could eat on Thanksgiving day. Unfortunately, a lot of gluten free foods at this point aren’t good when leftover. They just don’t last well. So, we’re trying to make sure that don’t leave them in the soup long and that we eat the entire batch quickly.

I would love to share the recipe but, to my surprise, my mother doesn’t use one. I am ashamed to say I have never actually helped her or watched her make these noodles before. My great aunt taught my mother to make these noodles when she was a young woman and the recipe is simply this: think about how many people you want to serve and crack one egg per person into a mixing bowl. Add a little bit of salt (Salt to your taste since there is no measuring in this recipe) and add flour and mix until the dough feels ready to roll out for cutting. The dough should feel dry (doesn’t stick to your hands) and slightly stiff when it is ready to roll out. Roll the dough out on whatever surface is large enough to contain it. For the whole Thanksgiving crowd, my mother has to use the entire kitchen table. Let the dough sit for 15-20 minutes and then use a pizza cutter to cut into strips for noodles. At this point you can cook the noodles right away or you can dry them over night and store them in the fridge for a few days if you want to make them ahead of time.

So, in my next post. I will update you to let you know how this year’s experiment went. Here’s to experimentation and innovation!!

The Egg White Trick

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

How many times have you made a recipe that calls for eggs to be separated?  Key lime pie uses yolks, soufflés use whites, some recipes even go so far as to call for one amount of yolks and another of whites.  I used to hate having to separate eggs and throw away the part I didn’t need.  Then, someone shared one of the greatest tip with me: You can freeze them.  So simple, yet so brilliant.

Never tried freezing yolks…hmmm

Never tried freezing yolks…hmmm

 I usually end up with extra egg white.  I put one egg white per bag, using those little snack-size zip bags. Then, I place those bags in a freezer bag. I just keep adding to that freezer bag as I have extras. This really comes in handy for me. For instance, I make an “oven fried” pork chop that requires an egg white.  I stick one of these little bags in a cup of warm water and it defrosts in just a couple minutes.

One of my favorite pork chop dishes

One of my favorite pork chop dishes

The perfect chile relleno

The perfect chile relleno

After years of searching, I have finally found the perfect recipe for one of my favorite foods…Chile Relleno. The perfect recipe calls for 5 egg whites. With my newfound s I have them right on hand and don’t have to crack eggs!

ElizabethElizabeth writes Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef). You can also find her on Facebook. Eat, Drink and be Merry!